Anda di halaman 1dari 2

1.1.

THE BRITISH CONTEXT: HISTORICAL GROWTH

Britain, better known nowadays as the UK of GB and Northern Ireland, comprises England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The biggest island, GB, is divided into England, Scotland and Wales; whereas Northern Ireland shares the second largest island with the Republic of Ireland. In prehistory, these areas were visited by Old, Middle and New Stone Age nomads, some of whom later settled permanently. From about 600BC-AD1066, the islands experienced several settlements and invasions from peoples from mainland Europe such as Celtics, Belgic tribes, Romans, Germanic tribes, Scandinavians and Normans; whom over time collectively created a multi-ethnic British population with mixed identities and different origins. The early invaders and settlers contributed to create gradually the separate nations of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland between the 9th and the 12th centuries, where Scotland and England gained strong identities by the 10th century. There were several internal situations as well as external conflicts in their historical growth to nationhood. Some of these differences still exist between the four countries. Later developments within the islands were influenced first by the expansionist, military aims of English Monarchs and second by a series of political unions. So, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Ireland and Wales were annexed to England respectively. And in the seventeenth century, Scotland were joined dynastically England. In 1707, England, Scotland and Wales became unified as Great Britain, and in 1801 Ireland joined them. But in 1921, southern Ireland left the union to become the independent Republic of Ireland, while Northern Ireland remained part of UK. The modern British state developed in an evolutionary and pragmatic manner. This process has been attributed to the supposed insular and conservative mentality of island peoples. However, the absence of any successful external military invasion of the islands since the Norman Conquest (1066), allowed the nations of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland to develop internally in distinctive ways, despite frequent and violent struggles among and within them. State structures such as the Parliament, the monarchy, the government and the law developed slowly, rather than by planned change, to provide an umbrella organization for the four countries. And the eventual structures and philosophies of British statehood have been imitated by other countries, or exported abroad through the creation of a global empire from the sixteenth century. Following initial reversals in Europe, they sought raw materials, possessions, trade and power overseas. This colonialism was aided by increasing military might into the twentieth century. By the nineteenth century the country had become a dominant industrial and political world power because of successive agricultural revolutions and the early development of the manufacturing and financial base; after a series of industrial revolutions in the eighteenth century. 1

Political union within Britain, despite continuing tensions, had also gradually encouraged the idea of a British identity (Britishness). But national identities in the four countries of the union persisted and became stronger as competing forces arose in the twentieth century. Pressure for constitutional change eventually resulted first in the partition of Ireland in 1921 and second in devolution on the part of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland by 1999. The British state has seen many other political reforms over time, such as the extension of the vote in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the diminishing power of the aristocratic House of Lords, the increasing authority of the elected House of Commons and the decline of executive monarch in the parliamentary structure. In addition, Britain underwent substantial collectivist social changes in the twentieth century, such as nationalization and the creation of a welfare state. Since the Second World War (1939-45), Britain has had to adjust with difficulty to the results of a withdrawal from empire, which was inevitable in the face of rising nationalism and self-determination in the colonies, a reduction in world political status, global economic recessions, a relative decline in economic power, increased foreign competition, internal social change, a geopolitical world order of superpowers, international fluctuations and new tensions after the break-up of the Soviet Union in the 1990s with the USA becoming the dominant force, the emergence of Far Eastern powers (such as China and India) and a changing Europe following the destruction caused by two world wars. The nation has been forced into a reluctant search for a new identity. While maintaining many of its traditional worldwide commercial, cultural and political links (such as the special relationship with USA, it has nevertheless moved from empire, and successor Commonwealth towards an avowed economic and political commitment to Europe. In recent centuries, Britain has rarely seen itself as an integral part of mainland Europe. Yet today, the psychological and physical isolation from Europe is slowly changing, as illustrated by increased cooperation between Britain and other European countries and by the opening in 1994 of a Channel rail tunnel between England and France. But this relationship continues to be problematic and many British are still sceptic about Europe. British politicians argue that isolationism is not a viable option in a globalized world. Britain has been involved in recent military actions in Bosnia, Kosovo, two Iraq wars, Afghanistan as a coalition partner in the NATO and American-led military action. And because of this it has attracted terrorist threats itself.